Timothy Keller tells this fable:
Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all.” And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this. And he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot - what if you gave the king something better?” So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse."
We find a similar unmet expectation among the people in Isaiah 58. The people’s claim is this: “Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?” And God provides this answer: “Behold, on the day of your fast you will find your desire, and drive hard all of your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist.” (58:3-4). God sees right through their motives and tactics - the use of spiritual observance as a lever to gain power over God and get what they want. And He sees that their “gifts” do not match up with the actions and intentions of their hearts. James points out the same tactics and motives behind them in his epistle: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3).”
In prayer…in giving...in other forms of worship…in your presentation of your body as a living sacrifice…motives do matter. Offer to God what is His, expecting nothing in return. Make sure it is about Him, not about yourself.
To His Glory,